In the world of self-care promotion, I often hear the metaphor "put the oxygen mask on yourself first" being utilized as a guiding principle. Although the metaphor makes logical sense, I have never found it to inspire nor feel in alignment with my self-care reality.
The metaphor conjures up a stressful predicament because it is being used in a dire straits situation; the plane is about to crash so now is the time to pop that oxygen mask on yourself so that you can be conscious enough to save those around you. Self-care only during emergencies and for the good of others.
Also, that word "first" in the metaphor "put the oxygen mask on yourself first" doesn't resonate. It suggests that self-care is a matter of hierarchy and performance. As in, there are going to be winners and losers at this game of self-care. So if I choose to act in a self-caring way, then I'm going to be leaving behind or neglecting others as I climb my way up the self-care ladder. The image of myself standing at the top of a ladder, with my tribe on lower rungs, feels lonely and isolating. Self-care has become confused with selfishness.
To disentangle the confusion, I suggest that a new paradigm take root. Stepping off the ladder, imagine yourself inside a circle with many concentric rings. Self-care becomes a movement towards the center. Life balance becomes a contextual, organic response to relationships as we move towards and away from our centers. No judgements; no pressure; no one left behind. Just the natural ebb and flow of life. The rise and glide of our life force. Centering as oppose to climbing.
Like a raindrop on the ocean's surface, we create a ripple effect from our centre.
In a centering circular model, self-care becomes an honouring of our authenticity and ultimately, serves as a wave like contribution towards greater consciousness.
Registered Clinical Counsellor (MA)